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Review: Grimes at the Varsity Theater

The sold-out show lacked major energy.
Grimes plays a sold out show at the Varsity Theater Monday night.
Image by Blake Leigh
Grimes plays a sold out show at the Varsity Theater Monday night.

Spritely Canadian singer Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, took the stage last night at the Varsity Theater. As she sang, she moved her American flag printed men’s polo-clad upper-body in an almost mechanical up-down, side-to-side, ponytail-flip series of movements. Through several trance-inducing ditties, she had the low-energy crowd bopping right along with her by the end of the set.

Grimes’ latest album, Visions, was released in January of this year. Tracks like “Oblivion,” and “Genesis,” were widely received this summer and made for dance-heavy shows on the festival circuit. Both songs use synths and heavy bass in typical Grimes fashion — as a canvas for high, layered vocals, creating music that is airy and light, but still makes you want to shake your body. Confined to a more compact space at the Varsity than at festival venues, the sound was a bit pinched. At times the bass was so intense it seemed to course through my back and into my throat. These songs seem better suited to flow out over crowds dancing in empty fields than those squished together in a long dark dance hall.

In the inevitable push towards the stage, faces looked up expectantly and began to nod as the first synth sounded. The crowd seemed to buzz with energy, willing the songstress to begin with a punchy opener so they could move to the music.

The curtain opened, but the beat never dropped. For her first three numbers, Grimes chose alien-like numbers that weren’t melodic, and didn’t feed the energy-hungry crowd that wanted so badly to dance. Slowly flashing blue lights and tons of reverb on the droning vocals created an almost underwater effect.  By the time Grimes did play “Oblivion,” by far her most popular song, her oohs and ahhs over creepy Halloween-esque synthesizer organ only slightly energized the nearly motionless crowd.

Grimes was joined on stage by two equally jovial young women, both donning floral prints. It was unclear whether the  other two ladies on stage were singing or just served as hype-girls to twist and shake their bodies to the beat of the song. Regardless, it seemed to work. As the show progressed the crowd got livelier and more relaxed. Every song saw more bodies moving in time to it than its predecessor. 

For her final number Grimes released a sea of mist and black and white balloons. She kicked it up a notch and thrashed around as her childlike voice wailed above a booming bass.

In lieu of an encore, Boucher explained that she didn’t like encores, so she would just do her final song right then. It was a bit strange, but with fairy-like back up singers and extraterrestrial tunes, it didn’t come as a surprise.

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